Saturday, May 2, 2020

Seeking Peace in The War of the Worlds (Kesegich)

When a certain president was elected, I found comfort in reading about the Black Plague. If the human race could survive that, we could certainly weather political incompetence. However, during this Covid-19 crisis, books on medieval history like A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman and A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester make me uneasy.

Many people have recently turned to Camus’ The Plague and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, but I find those books to be entirely too close to the current reality. Actually, I should take a moment to apologize to my students for assigning The Plague to be read this March. Honestly, guys, I didn’t know.

What I find comforting now is catastrophe on an even greater scale: H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. At least that is not happening. In addition to re-reading the novel, I am also exploring various film versions. I enjoy seeing how each one interprets the Martians, envisions the narrator and portrays such characters as the crazy curate and the man hugging his money in the street.

I started with the 2005 Tom Cruise version. Instead of a super rational journalist or scientist, they make this protagonist into a goofy divorced dad who has to win his kids’ affection through derring-do. I was pleased to see the hundred-foot tall tripods accurately rendered in this movie. Otherwise, I think it lacked the necessary gravitas.

I then went to a European series on Prime Video that claims to be a bold, contemporary re-imagining of H.G. Well’ss classic novel.” It is quite serious enough; the main protagonist is a French woman scientist (how modern is that!). The series is enriched by several families and subplots. Only the first three episodes are free, though, so the Martians are still winning.

Next, I watched a 2005 indie version that calls itself The Classic War of the Worlds” and is set in Victorian England. For three long hours it follows all of the original story and much of the dialogue. At first, I was delighted by people saying Cheers” as they passed each other in horse drawn carriages. I thought the Martian technology would make a cool juxtaposition to that dreamy British countryside. Unfortunately, the cylinder that landed on the earth was a rusty lump and the Martians looked like puppet bugs. The planet-destroying heat ray machine must have been made from an antique erector set. Twenty-five million dollars seems like a lot of money to me, but I guess this is a low budget film. I watched the second half on mute while making phone calls.

Most recently I watched the 1953 Gene Barry and Ann Robinson version.  In this wholesome movie they say, “Jeepers!” and humanity is saved when dozens of churches pray for a miracle. The army drops the atom bomb on the Martian spaceships, but even that cannot penetrate their force fields. Man’s hubris and the limits of science are made clear.

Ultimately, all of the versions I have seen are faithful to the H.G. Wells’s ending in which the Martians die because they lack immunity to earth’s bacteria.  Maybe I like this story so much because the germs are on our side. Earth has forgiven us.

Amy Kesegich is an associate professor and Head of the English department at Notre Dame College. Her latest publications have included poems in Blue Mountain Review, Penguin Review, Heights Observer, and Rubbertop Review.

1 comment:

  1. If you're interested in pure terror and comedy (AAK!AAK!) watch Mars Attack.